September 9, 2009

Coffee Recommended To Dozing Aussie Doctors

Australian medical groups harshly criticized state government guidelines on Tuesday, which recommended that sleep-deprived doctors consume the equivalent of up to six cups of coffee in caffeine in order to be alert during long shifts.

In a policy paper on fatigue risk management, Queensland Health declared the "strategic use of caffeine... to be beneficial" for doctors, reported Brisbane's Courier-Mail.

The document stated, "The recommended dosage for a prolonged and significant reduction in sleepiness during a night without sleep has been suggested at 400mg of caffeine... equivalent to about five to six cups of coffee."

Energy drinks were also listed as a viable remedy for sleep deprivation, but they are not as available or inexpensive as coffee or caffeine pills, the paper also reported.

The guidelines were described by the Australian Medical Association (AMA) as "disturbing" and the group said that doctors taking on shifts of up to 80 hours needed to be given adequate rest breaks.

"Lives are being put on the line, that's why the AMA has repeatedly drawn attention to this, we've got to change the attitude, we've got to change the rostering," vice-president of AMA Steve Hambleton told Channel Nine television.

The problem garnered much attention when Queensland's Salaried Doctors Association anonymously surveyed medical practitioners and reported outrageous fatigue-related issues, such as surgeons falling asleep in operating theatres.

Andrew Johnson, Queensland Health's Townsville district medical director, defended the guidelines that he assisted in drafting, by explaining that they serve to emphasize the need to produce rosters that let doctors get enough sleep.

However, he says caffeine is a well-known stimulant "and when you're in a tight spot, it can help."

"What's come through very clearly in the international literature on this across a range of industries is that caffeine can, in fact, improve alertness and performance. That's been a long-established fact," he commented to Sky News.

"We're not trying to push caffeine down the throats of doctors but we are saying that one thing you can do to improve alertness is some strategic caffeine use."